Black Excellence In Dance - Alvin Ailey

Of course, any exploration into historic Black dancers would be woefully incomplete without the AMAZING Alvin Ailey.

Born in 1931, at the height of the Great Depression in Texas, which at the time was known to be an almost proudly violent and segregated part of the southern United States, Ailey grew up frequently barred from experiencing much meaningful social interaction.

Having been abandoned by his father well before his first birthday, he and his mother were forced into labour in cotton fields, and as domestic servants for white families.

Often, in an attempt to escape even temporarily from the pain of his young life, Ailey spent a lot of time in church, were he felt safest. He also liked to sneak out, and watch the adults dancing around his town.

He also spent a lot of time writing about his experiences in journals. He wrote and kept them for most of his life, documenting every step of his journey.

When he was young, in an attempt to help them create a better life, his mother moved to Los Angeles in 1941, and a year later, Ailey joined her and enrolled in school.

In 1946, Alvin Ailey witnessed his first live performance, hosted by the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and this sparked an interest in him that had only ever been glimpsed while watching dancers as a young child, and Ailey began taking lessons.

Ailey joined the Melrose Avenue studio where, in 1953, the artistic director, and now close-friend of Ailey, Lester Horton passed away suddenly from a heart attack, leaving the studio without a leader. This was a role that Alvin would soon step into.

Later, in 1954 Ailey would be recruited to join the Broadway show House Of Flowers as a featured dancer due to his unique style which was developed after years of studying multiple dance-styles and fusing them together to create a visual representation of the Black experience in America. A style that had begun to create a lot of conversation about the treatment of many - if not all - African Americans.

In 1958, Ailey founded the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, a company dedicated to continuing the work of expressing the voice that creates Black culture. This company is still among the most well-known dance companies in the history of the entire world.

While Ailey choreographed more than 70 ballets for his dancers, he insisted that the company perform pieces by other choreographers rather than stand as a singular vehicle for his voice. In present-day the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre company continues this ethos by presenting major revivals and commissioning pieces from a wide range of choreographers. In fact, the company's repertoire contains well over 200 different ballets.

Ailey sadly passed away on December 1, 1989 in Manhattan, New York at the age of 58, but his work still lives on, and will - without doubt - be remembered forever.

From a childhood of working in cotton fields and serving white families, to creating the most well known cultural-focused dance companies in the world, Alvin Ailey will forever be a reminder of success being possible for absolutely anyone if the drive and desire is present.

The world of dance owes many a debt to the memory of Alvin Ailey, and we're proud to be featuring him in our Black Excellence in Dance series.

Here's to Alvin Ailey. (January 5, 1931 - December 1, 1989)

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